Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today’s Youth: A Generation Ready to be Found

These are some notes I wrote up for myself after Global News called and asked me to comment on youth unemployment (i.e., the job prospects for this year’s class of college and university graduates).

I'm not one of the doomsters who lament  “a Lost Generation.” I fell for that line (and reported it) two recessions ago. I kicked about it for years because the economy cycled on and found jobs for everyone who wanted them. The same thing will happen again. Except this generation has it better, because they already live in the digital future that businesses everywhere are working so hard to understand.

My interview in the Global Toronto newsroom lasted all of two minutes, so I thought I would share the rest of my thoughts on youth job prospects here.

They’re just notes. But feel free to comment.

I truly believe that young people entering the workforce have a chance to contribute significantly, and much earlier, than any generation before them.  The main reason is that they have grown up in the social, always-connected world of Internet media and mobile devices. There’s virtually no question that this is the key environment businesses must master over the next 10 or 20 years, but few business decision makers understand this milieu as well as the 20-somethings who have grown up in it. 

This puts new job-seekers in an enviable position.  They can hit the ground running in new jobs, rather than taking six months to a year to learn the ropes – as happened when previous generations came to work in organizations more stable over time.  To benefit from this advantage, however, job seekers have to be aware of it, and figure out how they can add value to an organization.

A few other ways that the Millennials have a better shot at new jobs than previous generations:
·       They understand business better.  Kids have been playing online games that require monetary transactions (real money, gold coins, life points, etc.) since kindergarten.  They understand limited budgets, deferred gratification, and know the difference between spending and investing.
      My own kids were playing Lemonade Stand when they were 10, which allowed them to choose how much they would spend on lemons and sugar and cups, and plan for how much they would buy on cloudy days or sunny days. So business decision making is nothing new to them.

·       They understand entrepreneurship.  Many kids online have been selling their know-how how for a long time.  I have met kids who create Wordpress websites, edit copy, curate photographs, create computer games and design logos. They understand how to create value and get paid.

·       They are social.  Young people they are very sharing and supportive of each other. They have high expectations for their work, but once they get there they will be very resourceful and creative collaborators, with their peers and with their elders.

·       They know how to find information.  The key challenge in most white collar positions is accessing the right information at the right time.  These kids know all the best search engines, they’re not just limited to Google, and they’re used to demanding – and finding - the right information at their fingertips.

·       Businesses today are embracing key performance indicators, measuring output, and generating productivity metrics.  Today’s kids are used to that; they all have hundreds of apps on the phone that speak to this new culture of digitizing every activity.  They can help businesses embrace new technologies to become more efficient, especially in non-tech areas like personal and professional services, construction, hospitality and government.

Also, the unemployment numbers for young people aged 20-24 are not as bad as most people think. Their unemployment rate is about 10%, which is pretty close to the long-term trend, and a big drop from about 13% five years ago. So things aren't as bad as we sometimes hear.

(The relevant chart is the second one in. But read the full myth-busting story if you have time.)

Where are we seeing job growth? What sectors are doing well?
Resources are having a bad time of it, but they will come back. Alternative energies will also do well. Non-profits and social enterprises are enjoying a new lease on life, led by Gen Y and millennials who are using technology and internet communications to rejuvenate these sectors and find new solutions to longstanding problems.

Education, social media, ecommerce, and marketing agencies are all promising. Many businesses need more hands-on help using and customizing technology, so that’s a huge and very lucrative area. And even old-fashioned brick and mortar retail is going to offer great opportunities. Target’s demise means millions of Canadians are looking for new places to spend their money.

And anyone who knows anything about sales can write their own ticket.

When a person graduates from university how should they go about finding a job?
Know what you can do. Develop specific skills: coding, apps, content creation, computer maintenance, hacking, whatever. Target the sectors and companies where you would like to work, and approach them with passion and confidence. Tell them how you can create value for them! (Be an investment, not a liability.)

When all else fails, make your own job. Buy and sell on eBay, resell cool technology from China, make your own jewelry or design websites, write an eye-catching blog and find sponsors for it. Buy a 3d printer and make stuff to sell to friends and gift shops. Do landscaping, cooking, snowshovelling, dogwalking, video production, tutoring and child care for clients with more money than time. There are more opportunities today than ever! 

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